We all make mistakes. For some people, these errors in judgment result in a criminal record, which can affect their lives negatively in any number of ways. Fortunately, there is a process in Ohio that you may be able to use to clear your criminal conviction.
Clearing your criminal record is a legal process where an individual who has been convicted of certain crimes can have their convictions removed from their records. In Ohio, this process is known as sealing a criminal record. Once your record has been sealed, it will be as though it never occurred.
You must meet specific criteria to be eligible to have your criminal record sealed. A skilled Mason, OH criminal defense attorney can help you with the process, starting with an evaluation of your criminal history. We will then advocate for you before the court, fighting to have your criminal record sealed.
In 2012, Governor Kasich signed Ohio Senate Bill 337 into law. This bill amended the Ohio criminal code to expand eligibility for sealing a criminal record.
Previously, Ohioans could only have their criminal record sealed for a first offense. Under the new law, anyone who meets the criteria for sealing is eligible to have their record sealed.
Once this process is complete, it will be as though the offense(s) never occurred. You will not have to disclose a conviction, arrest, or criminal charge when applying for most jobs. However, some employers will still have access to your criminal history if you apply for certain types of jobs, such as working with children, and even sealed convictions may disqualify you from those positions. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI) maintains a record of all sealed criminal histories.
Under the old law on sealing criminal records, only “first offenders” could have their convictions expunged. As a result, anyone with more than one conviction was ineligible for sealing, with a limited exception for minor misdemeanor offenses and convictions related to the same case.
Now, more people can have their criminal records expunged. As an initial matter, the conviction that you are trying to expunge must not be one that is excluded from the law, and you cannot have been sentenced to a mandatory prison term for that charge. In addition, you cannot have any criminal charges pending when you seek expungement.
To be eligible, you must fall into one of two categories:
For category A eligibility, you must meet all criteria. If so, then you may be able to seal all of your convictions. For both categories, all of your convictions are considered, regardless of how long ago they occurred, and where they happened (i.e., in another state or federal court).
Importantly, not every type of conviction can be sealed even if you are eligible for this process. OVI/DUI offenses, traffic offenses, most sex crimes, 1st, and 2nd-degree felonies, and most crimes involving children cannot be sealed.
The sealing law is still fairly complicated. For example, in some situations, two or more related convictions may be considered one conviction for these purposes. For this reason, it is important to consult with a law firm with experience in having Ohio criminal records sealed before starting the process.
If you qualify, there are several steps that you must take in order to have your record sealed. First, you will need to obtain a copy of the final order(s) of conviction that you want to have sealed. Your attorney can obtain these records for you, or you can request a certified copy from the Clerk of Court in the appropriate jurisdiction or by going to a BCI Webcheck location.
Second, you will need to fill out two forms: (1) Application for Sealing of a Criminal Record Pursuant to ORC §2953.32 and (2) Judgment Entry for Sealing. These forms are typically available on the website for the courthouse in the county where you were convicted. In Warren County, the forms include instructions for completing and filing.
Third, you will need to pay a fee to the court. If you cannot afford to pay this fee, you can fill out a Poverty Affidavit. You will then make three copies of each form, and file the Application for Sealing of a Criminal Record and the Poverty Affidavit to the appropriate court to file them. The clerk will take the copies, stamp them, and then give one copy back to you.
Fourth, you will be notified of a hearing date. At the hearing, you will be given an opportunity to present your case and ask the judge to have your criminal record sealed. The prosecutor will also be present and has the opportunity to object or to argue against sealing.
The judge will then make a decision on the expungement based on the results of a background check, your argument, and any opposition from the prosecutor. If they decide to seal your criminal records, the judge will sign your completed Judgment Entry. Otherwise, you may receive a decision in the mail.
It is possible to represent yourself through the sealing process. However, the process is not automatic — you will still have to convince a judge that your interest in having the records sealed outweighs the government’s interest in keeping them open. You will also need to convince the judge that you have been rehabilitated. For this reason, you may choose to work with a criminal defense lawyer who can ensure that you qualify for sealing, the paperwork is properly completed and who will advocate for you before the court.
If you committed a crime as an adult (aged 18 or older), then the only process available to you to clear your criminal record. However, if you committed a criminal offense when you were a minor, then you may be able to have your juvenile record both sealed and expunged.
All juvenile records are eligible to be sealed, except for adjudications related to aggravated murder, murder, and rape. If a youth was adjudicated delinquent on any of these charges, those records cannot be sealed. For all other juvenile records, a young person can apply to have their records sealed either within 6 months of the final conclusion of their case (if under 18), or once any case has been concluded if they are 18 or older.
In addition, a person with a juvenile record can have those records expunged. Expungement means that the record will be completely removed from the court’s records and destroyed. Under Ohio law, all sealed juvenile records are automatically expunged after 5 years, or when the individual turns 23 (whichever happens first). If a person does not want to wait for that 5 year period, they can apply to have their sealed record expunged at any time.
The process for expunging is the same as for sealing juvenile records, but can only be completed once the juvenile records have been sealed. If you have a juvenile record and are interested in clearing that record, reach out to a Mason expungement attorney for an initial consultation to discuss your options for moving forward.
You cannot seek to have your criminal record sealed immediately after being convicted of a criminal offense. Instead, you must wait for a period of time after you have completed your sentence to begin the process. This time period is based on the number and type of convictions that you have:
The time period begins to run once your case has achieved “final discharge” status. This means that you have finished any jail or prison sentence, probation, or parole term and paid any fines.
If you have a criminal record, you may not see the point of spending the money to have your prior convictions or charges expunged. You may not even realize that your criminal history has been used against you — or what your life would be like with a “clean” criminal record.
Having a criminal record can affect your ability to get a job, obtain certain professional licenses, or even get a place to live. It can also cause you to lose credibility and maybe embarrassing. Getting your record cleared can help to ensure that mistakes you made in the past don’t follow you around for life. It can also give you closure on a painful chapter of your life.
Once you have your criminal record sealed, all sealed convictions and charges will not show up when someone searches your criminal history. Under Ohio law, the sealing means that the offense will be treated as though it never occurred.
However, this doesn’t mean that these records will disappear entirely. Instead, access to these records will be extremely limited, and the general public will not be able to obtain them. The BCI will maintain a record of your sealed convictions, which can only be accessed by law enforcement agencies and certain employers if your criminal history is related to your job.
You can absolutely represent yourself and get your criminal record sealed on your own. However, for most people, working with a criminal defense lawyer makes more sense and is more likely to result in a favorable outcome.
The sealing process doesn’t just involve gathering your criminal record and filling out a few forms. You also have to appear in court and make an argument to the judge as to why your record should be sealed. For most people, this is incredibly intimidating and may lead to a denial of your request for sealing if you don’t make a strong argument to the court.
A criminal attorney will:
In many cases, your lawyer can appear in court on your behalf, so you won’t have to go to the hearing if you don’t want to or are unable to go. Ultimately, while it is possible to represent yourself and get your criminal record sealed, you will typically have a better outcome if you work with a law firm that understands the process and can put together a strong case for having your criminal record sealed.
Honest, good people make mistakes and bad decisions. Having a criminal offense on your record shouldn’t destroy your life. The sealing process allows you to get a fresh start, and may even increase your ability to get a job.
As former prosecutors, the attorneys of Engel and Martin understand Ohio criminal law and the criminal justice system. With law offices in Mason and Columbus, we represent clients throughout Ohio on a range of criminal matters. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with a member of our team, call us at 513-445-9600 or fill out our online contact form.